This may sound strange, but I am learning how to write. While I know how to form words, sentences and paragraphs, I am yet to construct anything with rhythm and warmth.
I realized a few years ago in my dreary life as a management consultant that something in my rigid brain had gone dormant. I could build elaborate mathematical models and decision matrices during the day, but I could not express my inner rumblings and ruminations during the night. It was as if I had trained my whole life, from school to college to consulting, to express just one side of myself. I started to worry that if this went on, I might never say anything worthwhile.
So I now read and write as much as I can. And frankly, it’s embarrassing to see the sludge that spills onto the page. But I take solace in Isaac Asimov’s reminder that any creative effort is supposed to be embarrassing. It is a personal venture into risk, experiment, and learning. (This is also why I signed up to Collate. I wanted to practice the lost art of letter-writing and to exercise another region of my brain. This is also why I am writing to you.)
A few weeks ago, I came across Lewis Carroll’s pamphlet ‘Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing.’ Finally, the secrets to writing and letter-writing would be revealed to me, or so I thought. Instead, his pamphlet went something like this:
(1) “Begin by getting out that other letter and reading it through…”
(2) “Address and stamp the envelope…”
(3) “Put your own address, in full, at the top of the note-sheet…”
To be fair, he did include a few useful rules. But I couldn't help but wonder if part of it was a joke. Perhaps I am being unrealistic, for there is no secret to writing. Like any other pursuit, it probably boils down to effort, attention, and inclination. In his Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says that while we cannot all be great writers, we can all be better writers. I find comfort in knowing that the latter must be true.
Natasha, I read your book Assembly and loved it—I think in part because I relate to your character’s personal history. But that topic deserves a separate letter. Today, I simply want to ask you about your craft. How did you make the transition from finance and mathematics to fiction? Did you relearn or rewire anything in yourself? Do you have any tips that go beyond Mister Carroll? I noticed in Assembly, for example, that you have a mastery of verbs and cadence. They gave poetic weight to everything you did. Do you mind sharing the elements of your toolbox, process, and routines?
Thanks for listening.
Here are my favorite excerpts from Carroll’s pamphlet:
“Here is a golden Rule to begin with. Write legibly. The average temper of the human race would be perceptibly sweetened, if everybody obeyed this Rule! A great deal of the bad writing in the world comes simply from writing too quickly. Of course you reply, “I do it to save time”. A very good object, no doubt: but what right have you to do it at your friend’s expense? Isn’t his time as valuable as yours?”
“One is, don’t repeat yourself. When once you have said your say, fully and clearly, on a certain point, and have failed to convince your friend, drop that subject: to repeat your arguments, all over again, will simply lead to his doing the same; and so you will go on, like a Circulating Decimal. Did you ever know a Circulating Decimal come to an end?”
“My sixth Rule (and my last remark about controversial correspondence) is, don’t try to have the last word! How many a controversy would be nipped in the bud, if each was anxious to let the other have the last word! Never mind how telling a rejoinder you leave unuttered: never mind your friend’s supposing that you are silent from lack of anything to say: let the thing drop, as soon as it is possible without discourtesy: remember ‘speech is silvern, but silence is golden’!”
 King, Stephen. (2000). On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
 Asimov, Isaac. (1959). On Creativity.
 Carroll, Lewis. (1890). Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing.